(2) what criteria HM Revenue and Customs applies in determining the acceptability of applications for new access agreements;
(3) what changes have been made in the criteria for judging acceptability of access agreements since 1997; and whether each change was applicable to pre-existing agreements;
(4) what provision there is for review of access agreements;
(5) how the public may discover what is available to be seen under access agreements.
22 exemptions from inheritance tax for heritage assets were granted in the two years 2004-05 and 2005-06. 19 exemptions covered a total of 957 pre-eminent chattels, one exemption was for a historic house with 246 historically associated chattels, and two exemptions were for scenic land.
Section 31 Inheritance Tax Act 1984 requires the public access to be reasonable. HM Revenue and Customs assesses what is reasonable on a case by case basis, on advice as appropriate from the relevant Government heritage advisory agencies. HM Revenue and Customs publishes guidance on their website about the criteria which apply to the public access condition in relation to objects of national etc. interest: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/ihtmanual/ Annex.htm and the heritage advisory agencies provide detailed recommendations as regards land and buildings and their historically associated contents.
Changes to improve the public access criterion were made by Finance Act 1998 so that it was reviewable and could no longer be satisfied by offering access only by prior appointment. The 1998 Finance Act also enabled agreements made in the past to be reviewed. Variation is by agreement between HM Revenue and Customs and the owner, but with recourse to an independent tribunal if agreement cannot be reached. HM Revenue and Customs reviews agreements at least every five years.
Details of conditionally exempt heritage assets that can be seen by the public, and details about the scheme generally, are available on the HM Revenue and Customs website: www.visitukheritage.gov.uk.